VW Diesel Emissions Fix Would Still Leave Cars Violating U.S. Air Standards

Although Volkswagen has agreed to repair diesel vehicles sold with software designed to cheat on federal emissions testing, a new report suggests that the vehicles may still emit more than twice the allowable emissions levels under a settlement agreement reached with the government. 

The Department of Justice (DOJ) and Volkswagen have ironed out details on offering buy-back options or repair options to consumers who purchased TDI “Clean Diesel” vehicles equipped with defeat software, which was designed to artificially lower emissions during EPA testing. However, according to a report by Bloomberg News, the preliminary repair option offered may still leave customers with a vehicle that violates U.S. air standards.

Although the Volkswagen TDI “Clean Diesel” vehicles were sold for a premium price, as “environmentally friendly” cars, it was discovered last year that they were equipped with software designed to hide the true level of pollutants released during normal operations. Prior to the repair, some researchers have recorded emissions levels up to 40 times the allowable rate during normal operation. However, when connected to EPA testing devices showed approved levels.

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A Volkswagen recall was issued after the discovery, affecting nearly 500,000 diesel vehicles sold in the United States. The problems expanded after the investigation began to also include some 80,000 Audi and Porsche SUV models with bigger 3.0 liter diesel engines. The illegal devices are believed to have been installed in nearly 11 million vehicles across the globe, sparking major concerns about the company’s ethics and business practices.

The Volkswagen settlement agreement was reached last month, but is still pending final approval. Under the deal, the automaker has agreed to spend $10 billion buying back vehicles from owners, and another $4.7 billion mitigating pollution and investing in zero-emission technology. The deal also provides an emissions modification plan to repair vehicles.

The repair plan suggested by Volkswagen could cut emissions by 80% to 90% over their current illegal levels, according to federal regulators, but will not fully fix the vehicles which currently emit much as 40 times the permitted amounts of nitrogen oxide.

The inability to fully repair the vehicles means that Volkswagen, regulators and the DOJ had to compromise, adding the buyback strategy and fining the company to cover future and past excess emissions.

California is also a beneficiary of the settlement, and will receive about $800 million for exposing the emissions scandal. The California Air Resources Board was a major player in the denial of the first repair program submitted by Volkswagen in July 2015 that suggested nearly 100,000 of the more expensive luxury vehicles impacted could be fixed without offering a buy-back option. The funds from the settlement are earmarked specifically for the research and development of clean-energy technologies.

The settlement agreement calls for Volkswagen to have 85% of the vehicles recalled by June 30, 2019. Failure to achieve that goal will result in another $85 million penalty for each percentage point the company falls shy of that goal. The company will also be fined an additional $13.5 million for each percentage point it falls below the 85% recall rate in California specifically.

The buy-back programs and repair agreements between the automaker, consumers and U.S. officials must still be approved by U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer. Breyer currently is overseeing more than 800 lawsuits filed against the automaker which have been consolidated to the San Francisco district and the opinion for approval is anticipated to be handed down in July 2016.

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